Showing posts with label Crete. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Crete. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Crete ~ Old Favorites and New Friends

We knew when we set out that a week-long trip to Crete, or Kriti, as it is known here, simply isn't long enough to see all that this, the largest of the Greek islands, has to offer. 

So our itinerary was based on  two criteria: revisit some of our favorite places and make the face-to-face acquaintance of several Facebook friends who live there.

Bound for Crete from our departure port Gythio 

The length of our stay in late June was determined by the once-a-week sailing schedule of the ferry we had taken from Gythio, in our Peloponnese region of Greece to this elongated island on the southern edge of the Aegean Sea. 

Our week-long itinerary took us to some of our favorite places

The Itinerary

We arrived in Crete's most western port city of Kissamos, in the wee small hour of the morning.  We then drove to nearby Chania, with its charming old town wrapped around its Venetian harbor. Then, after two nights, it was up and over the White Mountain range to the island's southern coast for another two nights in Chora Sfakia. While there, we did a day trip (by ferry) to Loutro . Then, retracing our route back over the mountains, we headed east to Plaka for another two nights. Our final night was spent in the port city of Kissamos. In this post I will take you as far as Loutro. . .

Driving in Crete is a different experience

As I last wrote, we traveled about the island in our car. One of the advantages of being expats and living in Greece is having your own car for road trips like this.  It didn't take long to be reminded of the quirky - but readily accepted --way people drive on this island. It is normal to pull off to the right side so that those behind you can pass even if there are oncoming cars.

Crete/Kriti, at 8,450 square kilometers/3,260 square miles, is so large that it can easily take five hours to drive from its western end to the eastern, a distance of some 340 kilometers.  


I was most excited about our stay in Chania because I have some very good friends there; friends who I had never met face-to-face.  And while I know many of you reading this have your qualms about Facebook, I can tell you that some of the friendships I have made through that social medium are among the many reasons that I sing its praises.  

One FB friend in Chania has been a friend so long that I don't even remember how we met in this on-line world. It was her family-owned hotel that had booked for our first two nights.

Fagotta bar old town Chania

Despoina's small five-studio hotel, Iason Studios, is located only footsteps from the harbor on a street that in the evening turned itself into a fairy-tale setting. And I knew she was a good friend when she told me that she didn't mind waiting until 1 a.m. for our arrival! Yikes! 

The balcony on our 'Lavender' studio

After Despoina got us settled in our studio and headed home for the night, we kicked off our holiday  with a glass of wine at the bar named Fagotto, Greek for the musical instrument, a bassoon. We sat at one of the half dozen tables set up on this narrow street. I didn't think our surroundings could get better until I opened the door and saw our bougainvillea-draped balcony in the morning sun. We couldn't have been in a better location. The suite, which came with kitchen, sitting area, and bedroom, was huge. And our hostess was a charming as I knew she would be! Luckily the Greek government removed the 'wear the mask outdoors' requirement the day we arrived so that she and I could pose for the photo below.

My friend Despoina outside her Iason Studios

The other friends I wanted to meet in Chania were the mother-daughter team who own and operate a jewelry store, Alexia Jewels. We also met on social media when I selected an anniversary necklace from a FB post of theirs last year. The ease of that transaction kicked off our friendship. Throughout the year we've messaged, just to stay in touch.  

I purposely did not post our travel destination on FB as I planned to wear my necklace into the store to see how long it took them to recognize me. I should have known. . .

Alexia and Eveline, friends at Alexia Jewels in Chania, Crete

I had barely gotten to the doorway and not yet entered when Eveline looked up and cried out, "Jackie!!! Is it really you? You came!!"  A warmer welcome I couldn't have received from friends I've known much longer. We pulled out seats and sat and visited as if we'd known each other for years.

South to Chora Sfakia 

Would Niki and her husband still run the small bakery in town?  Would Delfini's still be serving the Sfakian Meat Pie we still talk about seven years later? Would the village look and feel the same?

Sfakian Meat Pie Four cheeses and lamb - still being served!

One of our favorite places on earth is the southern coast of Crete, home to Chora Sfakia and Loutro, villages that we return to each time we are on the island. Not only did Niki and Markos still own the bakery, they have added a second one. Delfini's was still there, serving our favorite meat pie and our favorite waiter is still working there and brought that pie to our table!  

An old coffee shop with a new look in the village 

The village has definitely modernized its waterfront but all our favorites were still there. Many people  even looked the same as we remembered them. We were especially happy to see none of the businesses had fallen victim to the lengthy Covid lockdown we experienced in Greece.  

We had booked a hotel that we'd not stayed in before and found it to be one of the most upscale places we have ever stayed in. A spacious room, huge bathroom and a terrace that could have accommodated many more than the two of us. From the terrace we could watch the ferry arrive from its run along the coast. 

Our upscale room in Chora Sfakia

For you hikers, this is the ferry that hundreds who hike the Samaria Gorge take from the end of the trail to meet buses parked in Chora Sfakia that will transport them back to their vehicles at the trailhead.  

Approaching Chora Sfakia by ferry

We took the Samaria, as the ferry is named, to Loutro the tiny village a bit further west for a morning of  walking along Memory Lane as we have spent two past Greek Easter's in this picturesque spot. (That blue link will take you to more tales and photos of Loutro.)  

Loutro in southern Crete is accessible only by water

With this stop we were half way through our week and I will pause the story there and take up with the rest of Crete next week.  Thank you for the time you've spent with us and welcome to our new subscribers and followers!!  We hope you'll return for the second half of our trip. Until then, stay safe.

Linking soon with:

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Crete: Hiking through History

From those iconic whitewashed buildings in the Cycladic Islands of Greece we told you about last week, we move south to the southern coast of Crete. The area is laced with hiking trails that wind up stark hillsides and through lush gorges – leading through the island’s ages-old history.

DSCF1275Many of those trails begin or end in Loutro, the small village where we stayed on Crete’s southwestern coast.

Some are what we consider  ‘soft hikes’ – those that don’t require hiking boots or other equipment and could be considered more ‘stroll’ than ‘hike’.

One of our favorite such stroll/hikes snakes along the hill – a backdrop to the village – and leads back more than a century ago; a time of Turkish occupation of this area. . .

The trail in April was lined with spring wildflowers and the hillside carpeted in greens.

Up, up, up the hillside, we left the village and its crescent-shaped harbor far below. For those in moderately good physical condition – the pathway with an easy grade (a hiking pole would be nice, but not required). Trail markers like those below are posted on rocks and signs along the route..

PicMonkey Collage

We’ve visited this area three times in recent years and the setting has remained as enchanting as the first time we saw it.


As you crest the hill you step back into a time of Turkish occupation – a time when the koule, or small castle, dominated the hill top. Back then this fortress was probably a hub of activity while nowadays only goats laze and graze among its ruins.

PicMonkey Collage

Sometimes we’d pass another hiker or two and we’d nod a greeting – no one wants to break the silence that envelops you here. . . it’s broken only by the hollow clang of the goats’ bells,the buzz of the bees and the rustle of leaves.


The remains of the Turkish koule are unattended – it isn’t a tourist attraction that requires security or entrance fees. Only those who hike between Loutro and Phoenix, as the neighboring harbor is called, are even likely to know it is there.


This area was once the base for Saracen pirates who were driven out by the Venetians and later the Turks drove out the Venetians.


The solitude here is so enveloping that just a short visit can refresh the soul and clear the mind.  I chuckle though each time I see this modern-day addition: a labyrinth. . .I guess it’s for those who need a kick-start in absorbing the solitude.


Hope you enjoyed our stroll through history – as always, your time is much appreciated. Hope to see you back here again soon!

Map picture
IF YOU GO:  Crete’s northern cities, Heraklion and Chania, have ferry connections to Athens and other Greek ports and airplane connections from Athens and other European airports. Buses, taxis or rental cars could be used to reach the southern shore.  Loutro, however, is accessed only by boat (there is a local ferry) or on foot.

Hiking: The trail we wrote about is part of the European long-distance path, the E4, a network of some 11 long-distance paths that stretch across countries in Western Europe and were developed by the European Ramblers Association (made up of walking groups throughout Europe). In Greece, it stretches across the Peloponnese and then takes up on this island. The Hellenic Federation of Mountaineering and Climbing established and maintains the trails. They also produce a multi-language pamphlet with information about the trails. 

Map picture

Linking up:
Travel Photo Thursday
Weekend Travel Inspiration
Travel Photo Monday

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Hora Sfakia: An Afternoon at Despina’s

Some of the best travel memories are those made from life’s simplest pleasures ~ like that afternoon at Despina’s on the waterfront in Hora Sfakia, Crete.

Hora Sfakia - Crete
Hora Sfakia, as I’ve told you in earlier posts, was a hub of activity in World War II, (click here for that post). These days this small quiet village on Crete’s southern shore is a stopping off place for hikers heading to or from the three nearby gorges: Samaria, Imbrios or Aradena. There are some people like us, who don’t hike, but simply adore the town and think a trip to Crete is incomplete without a visit here.

Because April's visit was our fourth here, we were looking forward to seeing folks we’ve gotten to know – or at least recognize – from our earlier visits.  Most of the shop keepers and restaurateurs call out greetings both to new-comers and ‘regulars’ like ourselves from their entryways in this pedestrian-friendly area of town.

One of the most welcoming is Despina the owner and operator of a small cafĂ© and patisserie along the waterfront here. . . she’s also the creator of those wonderful goodies in the display cases pictured above and below.

Despina’s has been open year-round here for 15 years..  In the high season (summer) she opens at 8 a.m. and closes at 11 p.m. then she goes to work making the new creations that will fill her shelves the following morning. (She admitted that often times she gets but a couple hours sleep each night during the height of the tourist season.)


The temptations that fill the refrigerated shelves usually include the likes of her cheese cakes and apple pie, chocolate souffle, tiramisu cheesecake, mocha amaretto and traditional Kataifi, a pastry that looks like shredded wheat, stuffed with nuts and drenched in honey.  During our recent visit, however, it was a lemon cake in an incredible lemon sauce – both made from fresh lemons that kept calling out each time we passed.


In past visits our will power has steered us past her cafe, with just a tingle of the sweet tooth. Sometimes we’ve had coffee there or a raki the local 'fire water' or two to end our evening’s pleasures. We’ve managed to resist the Sweet Siren.


Like many of the restaurants that line the waterfront in this small town, the kitchen and inside seating is separated from the ‘deck’ seating by a walkway/driveway.  While not many cars pass by, when they do, they are close – but that just adds to the ambiance of the experience.


But this time that lemon cake was too much to resist.  I’d like to have shown you how big a piece it was that we shared, but I barely remembered to pull out the camera before we had wolfed it away completely. . .


That is our  Foodie Tuesday tale this week for our linkup at Inside Journeys.  Hope you’ll join us Thursday when we “Target Tinos”. (Yep, you have to come back to figure that one out.) Thanks for the time you spent with us today~as always, it is appreciated.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Grecian Road Trip: By the Numbers

Go ahead. Admit it.

When reading or hearing about travel – no matter how inspiring the trip might be – doesn’t it spark a few questions that you’d really like to ask, but don’t know how to quite go about it. Questions like,

"How long were you gone?"
"How far did you go?"
"How much did that cost?" 
"How did you do that?"

We certainly have them. It's not just because we are nosy; knowing those things about other's trips can help us plan our future travels. Because so many of you've mentioned that you are either heading to Greece or have it on the bucket list, we thought today we’d tell you a bit about our trip by looking at some of the numbers:

PicMonkey Collage
Greece and Turkey 

Destination: Greece via Istanbul, Turkey. (Remember, last fall I tipped you off to a travel deal: The Scout, nailed us a $608 round-trip airfare (taxes, fees included) from Seattle to Istanbul on Lufthansa Airlines; a steal compared to flights to Athens averaging $1,200 per ticket. The internet deal was available for about a week.)

Our round-trip flights between Istanbul and Athens were about $250 US per person – still less than a direct flight to Athens and gave us a chance to explore Istanbul.
Incidentals: $40 US for two Visas, valid for 90 days to enter Turkey (purchased at Ataturk Airport after arrival in Istanbul).

Yikes! Unbelievable Checked Baggage charges: 25-euro ($35 US) per bag to Crete from Athens on Aegean Airlines; 35-euro ($49 US) per bag Athens to Istanbul on Olympic Airlines.

Near Leonidas - Peloponnese Greece

Duration: 42 nights. A three-week road trip through the Peloponnese, a week in Crete, a week in the Cyclades Islands, couple nights in Athens, five in Istanbul.

Transportation: eight airplanes, five ferries, four rental cars.

PicMonkey Collage
Greek ferries

Ferry travel in Greece isn't a cheap way to get around - but it is fun, more comfortable than airplanes and doesn't require any security screening!  We traveled by 'fast boat' those sleek modern hydrofoils that nearly sail over the water, by the larger cruise-ship sized ferry, and the small one that is legendary on the southern coast of Crete. Prices, in euros, ranged from $4 US (Sfakia to Loutro, Crete) – $70 US (Tinos Island in the Cyclades to Athen's port of Piraeus), depending on ship and destination.

PicMonkey Collage
Our 'wheels' in Greece

Rental cars: On the flip side, those itty-bitty cars we rented did seem reasonably priced, averaging about 22-euros a day, everything included. Note: None of our rentals required an International Driver's License.   Those little cars fit those narrow, winding roads well. On several occasions we squeezed past on-coming vehicles, maneuvered around goats or cattle lazing in the road, or inched our way through small town streets.

Gasoline. . . Gasp!  Prices ranged from $8 US - $10 US a gallon.  It sometimes took 50-euros, or $68 US to fill the small tank.

This room cost 40-euros a night, kitchen, large bathroom and deck  - Ios Island Cyclades

Accommodations: We stayed in 15 hotels.  Prices varied but were generally in the 35 - 40-euro ($48-$55 US) range and the places were charming. Most had kitchenettes which allowed us to eat a couple meals 'at home' each day - a real money-saver. The least we paid was $38 US for a two-bedroom, two-bath apartment with fireplace and sweeping views in Astros, a town in the Peloponnese. The most, at $200 US a night, was the five-star hotel (booked on Expedia and still a deal compared to regular prices) a block of Syntagma Square in Athens where we spent two nights.

Greek style Greek Salad - Heraklion, Crete

Food and Drink: This is where the travel dollar savings are unbelievably good in Greece!  We spent about 22-euros ($30 US) which paid for multi-course meze meals, a half-liter pitcher of wine and tips.

Porto Kagio - Peloponnese
Wine: for 3-euros ($4.50 US) we purchased excellent wines in one-liter plastic bottles at farmer's markets and grocery stores. The 'fancy' glass bottles with corks could be had for 7-euros and up.  For 3-5-euros we drank half-liter pitchers of wine at restaurants.

Two 'filter coffees' - Tinos Island, Cyclades

Coffee: Greece has gone coffee crazy in recent years and coffee shops proliferate in cities and small towns alike.  Cappuccino and filter (pressed, usually) coffee for two was 5-6-euros.

Street Market open daily - Heraklion, Crete

Street market shopping: It was a joy to do our grocery shopping at local street markets. We saved an enormous amount of money and had some of the freshest, best tasting food imaginable.  Two examples:  strawberries 3-euros ($4.50 US for a kilogram, 2.2 pounds) and oranges, fresh picked, 1-euro per kilogram.

Mykonos Island - Cyclades

What are the questions you wish bloggers and travel writers would answer about places? (BTW, if you've got questions these numbers didn't answer, send them our way.  If you have some money saving tips for future trips, add those as well.)  That's it for today - as always, thanks for your time! Hope to see you again soon!

 Linking up with Travel Photo Thursday and Mosaic Mondays and Travel Photo Monday.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

It is Easter in Loutro, Crete

Easter arrived in the village on the south coast of Crete with much the same fanfare and celebration as it did when we were here last year. And that is one reason we returned to this special little place on the Libyan Sea this year.

loutroeaster2014 029 
Long recognized as the most important celebration of the year in the Greek Orthodox religion, the traditions surrounding Easter are  particularly special in the small places like Loutro.

loutroeaster2014 005
In the evening on  Good Friday, Megali Paraskieve,  (the Friday before Easter) the flower-covered bier (shown in the first photo) was carried in a processional through town to near the ferry dock where a brief ceremony was conducted by the village priest, Papa Geogious (Father George).  There are no vehicles here. The processional made its way along  ‘main street’, the sidewalk that bisects the dozen restaurants, hotels and stores that line the harbor.

The umbrellas were due to the inclement weather this year – the rainfall was heavy and it was such a chilly evening that we donned our long johns to keep us warm. . .in the restaurant and our room!
Holy Saturday, Megali Savato, dawned bright and sunny and by noon “Judas” had appeared on the beach to await his fate later in the evening. 

(We had a good chuckle during a morning hike outside the village when we encountered a tourist from a  neighboring hamlet. He was coming from Loutro and upon learning we were staying there, asked, “Say, did you notice the chap hanging from a noose on the beach?” We assured him it was Judas. . .)

loutroeaster2014 012

As Saturday afternoon arrived, so did the boats, water taxis and ferries bringing families and friends to the small village. Not as many, we noted, as last year but then Easter fell two weeks earlier this year and this sleepy little village has barely arisen from its winter’s hibernation. 

loutroeaster2014 027

At 8:30 p.m. the church bell began ringing and it was time to gather for there for the service that culminates with the priest announcing “Khristos Anesti” (Christ is Risen)!  We missed it last year as we expected it later in the evening, but like many of those similar ‘ midnight’ services throughout the world, it has been moved up to an earlier hour.

loutroeaster2014 034

The church in Loutro, sporting a new whitewash, is small as one might expect in a tiny hamlet. Its grounds are dirt and stone, a single bell hangs from the bell tower. The priest is elderly – very elderly – and very revered by locals and we outsiders alike.

loutroeaster2014 043

The next half hour was pure magic – and not all church services we’ve attended over the years on Easter could be described that way. The church and church yard filled with the faithful to hear the priest -- his voice sometimes halting with the cadence of age as he told the centuries old story of Easter.  And then the call, ‘defte lavata fos’ (light the candles):

loutroeaster2014 038 
Here it isn’t about chocolate bunnies and baskets filled after backyard hunts with Easter eggs (some plastic ones filled with coin) like back in the United States, here it is about celebrating Easter and its meaning while surrounded by family and friends.

loutroeaster2014 040

And as for Judas, as soon as the call went out, “Khristos Anesti” and the bell rang the news, (prompting much hugging, kissing and hand shaking) it was time to move to the beach. . .

loutroeaster2014 053

We hope where ever you are and if you are celebrating Easter that it is as memorable as ours has been.  We’ll tell you more about Loutro in a future post and tell you where we’re headed this week. (And we’ve just learned that a favorite fellow travel blogging duo will be there . . .so you will have to come back and see who it is and where we are!)  Happy Easter!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...